Fourth of July Memories
A Midwestern child of the 1950s and 60s, my Fourth of July holiday was about picnics, parades, fireworks, and mostly, lots of family. Aunts and uncles, great aunts and uncles, grandparents, cousins — it was a happy excuse to get us all together.
My sweetest memories are of the picnics that were held either at a cousin’s farm or another cousin’s home on a big river.
At the farm, most families arrived the evening before and pitched a tent somewhere in the vicinity of the farmhouse to be close at hand and not miss any of the fun. The children checked out cousins we hadn’t seen in months, ran wildly around catching lightning bugs, throwing sticks into a big bonfire that lit the night. Finally, exhausted, we went to sleep listening to the soft, deep voices of the men tending to a whole hog roasting in the glowing embers of a trench freshly dug in the ground.
On the morning of the 4th, the women fried dozens of eggs fresh from the chicken coop in giant frying pans, with bacon, sausages, and pancakes, for breakfast. Coffee was served from big blue enameled coffee pots all morning. Then, while mothers and the older generation rested in lawn chairs and cheered us on, dads and children played baseball in the smoky aroma from the roasting pig. When the dads tired and declared the game over, the children took up croquet, lawn darts, and hide-and-seek until finally, at last, the big dinner bell was rung. Long tables of salads and desserts, watermelon and icy soda pop appeared to accompany the centerpiece — that huge pile of fragrant, juicy pork.
When we were sated with food, naps were taken until we gathered in the evening in a long line of lawn chairs placed along the edge of a cornfield. Here the Big Boys (as we called the older cousins) and a few dads brought out the fireworks while the grandmothers and mothers tut-tutted about safety, the silliness of boys and noise, and rumors of ear drums ruptured from just such doings, cautioned the children to stay back from the action. Two rusty barrels with lids sat at the ready. The show began.
There were no beautiful fireworks with colored fountains raining from the sky, only the loud banging sort and little white sparklers we children held. A favorite scheme of the Big Boys was to drop firecrackers into the barrels, magnifying the sound and blowing the lids off the cans. Oohs and aahs would follow and the boys would race into the corn to find the lids for the next round.
One memorable Fourth, talked about for years since, was the one when several boys threw lit firecrackers into a barrel at the same time and ran away. All heads bent far back and our eyes followed the lid, up up up into the sky like a flipped nickel, floating back down and
On the barrel
From which it had been launched!!!!!!
It’s the truth. I saw it with my own eyes.